Why virtue ethics Essay

Submitted By mikewillams309
Words: 696
Pages: 3

Why virtue ethics does not have a problem with right action

My title is rather broad, so I’ll begin by saying that in this paper I am not making claims about every form of virtue ethics. What I say will almost certainly not apply to forms that are pluralist, exemplarist, Kantian. Nietzschean or consequentialist. I am talking about a mainstream theory in virtue ethics, whose most important feature is its rich conception of virtue. Virtue is not merely a disposition to perform certain actions but an educated disposition, formed over time and experience, to think, reason and respond emotionally as well as acting in certain ways. This is developed by habituation, which is not routine or mere automaticity, but a process structurally like learning to be an expert in a practical skill – someone, that is, who reliably acts in an intelligent, rationally-informed way, usually without conscious deliberation.1 In this paper when I refer to ‘virtue ethics’ I have in mind an account in which this conception of intelligent virtue is central. This conception of virtue is often called Aristotelian or neo-Aristotelian, so it is important to note that it does not imply other aspects of Aristotelian theory, such as the ‘doctrine of the mean’, or naturalism about the virtues. A common objection against virtue ethics has been that it is defective in providing something called action guidance, guidance provided by the theory as to what we should do. Whether this is a good objection or not depends, of course, on what we think action guidance is.2 Commonly it’s assumed that an ethical theory should give us rules, following which constitutes being given action guidance by the theory. What sort of rules? Often it’s further assumed that the rules must take the form of specifying types of action that we should or shouldn’t perform: ‘Pay your debts,’ ‘Don’t lie,’ and the like. This assumption creates familiar problems, which I can’t go into here. We are now once again familiar with virtue rules, recalled to our attention by Rosalind Hursthouse.3 These are rules that indicate the kind of virtue that is called for in the circumstances, such as ‘Be honest,’ ‘Don’t be greedy,’ and so on. I won’t repeat Hursthouse’s arguments to the effect that virtue rules are more helpful and specific in guiding us to action than rules specified in terms of types of actions.4 If I am told, in a given circumstance, to be honest, I have been given very specific information, since I already know a lot not only about what kinds of actions are typically honest, but also about what it is to be an honest person, to be repelled by dishonesty, to recognize that honesty is what is